The Curious About Everything Newsletter #14
The best reads things I read this month, including a history of the poinsettia, how napping helps babies learn, an extraordinary essay on food and trauma, and more.
Happy New Year, friends-in-curiosity! I hope it was a safe and cozy holiday season, despite all the madness in the world right now.
Lemurs are one of my favourite animals, and I regret not visiting them in their home of Madagascar before my spinal CSF leak happened. It’s unlikely that I will get there with my mobility restrictions.
Given that I can’t travel there, and also state of the dumpster fire we call life right now, I decided to something fun and adopt a lemur. If you follow me on social media, you likely know this already because there has been a LOT of lemur content of late. It’s a symbolic adoption; sadly there will be no actual lemurs sent our way.
I’ll be adopting via the Duke Lemur Center (DLC), which was founded in 1966 and houses the world’s largest and most diverse population of lemurs outside their native Madagascar. All “adopt-a-lemur” money goes toward supporting the care of the lemurs, as well as DLC's work in research and conservation.
I will be closing donations soon. To learn more about the Legal Nomads lemur adoption, plus choose the type of lemur we will adopt, click below. Join us!
The Best Things I Read This Month
🏆 End of Year Roundup - Best of the Rest 🏆
Last month, I shared a lot of “best of 2021” lists in photography, reading, and more. I wanted to share the stragglers that I came across since CAE#13:
52 things I learned in 2021. A great, interesting, and quirky round up from Jason Kottke.
Capture the Atlas’ northern light photographs of the year from 2021.
FiveThirtyEight’s best and weirdest charts of 2021.
Can’t resist a good meme! Inside Hook summarizes the best memes of the year—and explains them for those who need a primer.
ESPN’s sports photos of the year.
Best dataviz of 2021 (also via Jason Kottke)
Red Bull’s Illume gallery for 2021, featuring the best images of the year.
Vice Mag’s most surreal pictures of 2021.
Vox News’ round up for the best documentaries of 2021 and how to watch them.
Cookbooks: Serious Eats’ best cookbooks of 2021, and New Yorker’s cookbook year in review, covered by Helen Rosner.
Entertaining idea for an end-of-year list: Slate’s staff on the worst things they bought in 2021.
Buzzfeed News rounded up the most powerful photos of 2021.
2021 in review from Dan Wang, whose end-of-year letters I read annually. This one covers China “as a place that both moves fast and breaks things, and moves fast and breaks people”, as well as Mozart, prophets, the Metaverse, and more.
The best “ask MetaFilter” queries of the year, a bookmarkable rabbit hole to keep around.
🍜 Reads about Food 🍜
A vivid, joyful description of using food to communicate by Danny Whitty. He shares his very personal story of how food (and a love of making it) has provided a beautiful means of self-expression as a person with autism and apraxia.
Among hundreds of Japanese brands and cultivars, it takes a blind tasting by a panel of “rice sommeliers” to determine the top of the crop, as detailed in this piece about the quest to find the world’s best rice.
A truly extraordinary essay on food, trauma, history and what it means to survive, by Chantha Nguon. “Burn the shoes, burn the rice. Burn away the spoiled-girl softness.” This piece is part of what will eventually become Nguon’s recipe-memoir book, written with author Kim Green. Moving, and well worth your time.
My former home of Oaxaca is featured in this Hemispheres Mag piece about the women who are shaking up the mezcal industry there.
Why does biryani mean so much to so many people on the Indian subcontinent? This wonderful piece, by Ahmer Naqvi, answers the question by taking us to the streets of Karachi, where biryani reigns.
🦊 Reads about Animals 🦊
Try not to smile when you look at these portraits of pets painted in the style of old masters by Dutch artist Tein Lucasson. It’s impossible. “In 2016, when the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam released many of its works into the public domain, Lucasson digitally inserted a photo of his beloved labradoodle Ventje into one of the paintings. Since then, the Dutch graphic designer and visual artist has turned hundreds of cats, dogs and guinea pigs into works of art.” You can see more of his work on his own website, L’Animorphe.
Magawa, the landmine-sniffing hero rat, died at eight years old. During his 5-year career as a landmine-seeker, the Magawa sniffed out over 100 landmines and other explosives in Cambodia.
Medieval warhorses were no bigger than modern-day ponies, a study finds. Contrary to mythical depictions of the iconic steeds as towering beasts, most in England were less than 14.2 hands high, i.e. around 4 feet 10 inches tall.
Do dogs know the differences between human language? A new study says yes, and that they can distinguish speech from gibberish—and know that Spanish and Hungarian aren’t the same thing.
Speaking of dogs: a new study from France found that they may be able to sniff out long covid. Covid-19 produces a specific odor as a result of metabolic changes, and the dogs had no false positives and a 51.1% accuracy rate.
Beautiful essay on the ways we see—and fail to see—whales, by Bathsheba Demuth. “Here whales have been homes. A practical space, shelter and host to meals and births and deaths. Host to the least abstract kinds of love. Familial, romantic, parental. Here whales have made those intimacies, by giving people the capacity to live.”
Ontario cat is returned to its owner after 12 years on the lam.
🫁 Reads about Health 🫁
In an age of increasing unwellness, how should we think about those who are sick? “The chronically ill person is a negative pole, the hidden shadow of this cyborg utopia. While the rest of us are in our manias of productivity, millions of people are imprisoned in their homes, stranded with terrible pains that have no identifiable physical cause, or exhaustion that can’t be cured by rest, or a fog that blots out the mind.” A moving and emotional essay / book review: It’s Not All in Your Head.
“This dearth of knowledge about women’s bodies has led doctors to see differences where none exist, and fail to see differences where they do,” writes Jessica Nordell in a piece about medical bias. One study found that while men who have irritable bowel syndrome are more likely to receive scans, women tend to be offered tranquilisers and lifestyle advice. Important, infuriating read.
Long Covid: some newer pieces. One writer’s battle with it, a widower’s plea following his wife’s suicide due to LC, a Macleans feature on long covid, a BBC first person piece from a patient who says, “I have to choose between walking and talking”, and Rolling Stone on what data we are still missing. (I have focused throughout not only on deaths/hospitalizations, and find it demoralizing to see how our leaders are not stepping up to protect the vulnerable or to-be-disabled in this pandemic. My decline started with a virus as well. I hope medical providers take these patients more seriously than me; I was told it was “just stress” when in reality I now know my vascular, neurological, and other symptoms were due to underlying conditions I had never heard of.)
A large study suggests that the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is the likely cause of multiple sclerosis. (The vast majority of people have antibodies for EBV. This does not mean EBV = you’ll get MS. It means, for the subset of patients who develop it, scientists think EBV may be the catalyst.)
Sleep helps consolidate memories in grown-ups. Research shows that naps are equally crucial for kids’ memory recall, learning and brain development.
“If someone had told me one year ago, when I was 59, that I had five years left to live, I would have been devastated and felt cheated by fate. Now the prospect of five more years strikes me as an impossible gift.” A stunning read about a neuroscientist preparing for death, and the lessons he learned along the way. Among them, that it’s possible to occupy two contradictory mental states at the same time—he is simultaneously furious at his terminal cancer, and deeply grateful for all that life has given him. (This runs counter to an old idea in neuroscience that we occupy one mental state at a time.)
🫂 Reads about Society 🫂*
(* This emoji is supposed to be people hugging, but it kind of looks like a mouse eating cheese, no?)
RIP to two incredible women. First, a loving obituary for the first lady of television, Betty White. And, a beautiful piece covering 10 lessons learned about writing from Joan Didion.
For a fee, you can hire a company to fix up your online reputation by tackling damaging search results. But is the new economy of digital makeovers making things worse?
A history of our prior habit of biphasic sleep, a forgotten practice from medieval times. For millennia, people slept in two shifts, once in the evening, and once in the morning. (Also this article mentions LEMURS.)
Have you succumbed to the Wordle craze? I have, and enjoy the fact that everyone in the world has the same word to guess. Here’s an unofficial archive, a flipped script version called Absurdle, and a quick primer on what the game is.
Possibly related: why are people compelled to cheat at games?
Trace the rise of American sporting events and the portable toilet boom, and it consists of two twinned lines, reaching for the sky. The real MVP of sporting events in the US? Port-a-potties, a business worth $17 billion and counting.
Especially relevant after this week’s synagogue hostage-taking: “I need not tell you that this comparison is offensive—it is obviously and staggeringly offensive to anyone with half a brain, let alone anyone, like me, still living in the epigenetic shadow of a genocide that killed more than a third of the entire global Jewish population.” Vaccine protests, yellow stars, and an inoculation of historical reality: Talia Levin on the misuse of Holocaust imagery by anti-vaxxers during the pandemic. (She goes into the history of vaccine experiments during the Holocaust, as well as her own family’s history.)
Guitar Player’s list of the greatest guitar solos of all time.
“I often trick myself into thinking that the road to less stuff might be paved with more stuff.” Paul Ford on how even experiences require acquiring "stuff", which have a cost and supply chain that comes with them. Controversial counterpoint: buy things, not experiences, because “much of what is wrong with our modern lifestyles is, in a sense, a matter of overconsuming experiences.” (I’m in the ‘experiences > things’ camp)
I’ve spent many a weekend roaming Montreal’s Chinatown and filling my belly. But the area is under threat, and petitions to save it have been thus far rejected. It’s one of the oldest, and now the smallest, Chinatowns in the country. More about its history and the movement to protect it, here.
How the poinsettia, a plant first used by 14th-century Nahua people in Mexico for dye and medicinal purposes, took over Christmas.
Kidnapped more than 30 years ago as a 4 year old child, a man in China is reunited with his family after drawing a map from memory and putting it on social media.
That’s all for this month! We just got hit with a snow storm here in the Ottawa/Gatineau area, so I choose a winterscape for the thumbnail image to this newsletter. Hope you are staying safe, wherever you are.
See you in February,